Rarely was a result more widely assumed than the one Sunday between the winless Jaguars and undefeated Broncos. Both of those descriptors still applied after Denver's 35-19 win, but the blowout expected by many onlookers never materialized.
This isn't college football. The worst and best teams aren't separated by scholarship discrepancies and massive funding disparities. Cupcakes only exist at the media-room buffet. And if you're just a bit off -- even with an offense in the midst of the best six-game start in NFL history -- you will be dragged into a brawl worthy of the Old West, or perhaps the broadcast news scene in 1970s San Diego.
All it took were a few flubs: some dropped passes, a pair of fumbled snaps, a throw down the seam that came up well short of
“Yeah, I think our focus is there," said Manning. "I’ve never noticed a lack of focus. Just the execution wasn’t as sharp. I wasn’t as sharp on a couple of decisions -- certainly on the interception, that was a bad decision, just a complete force."
For the first time all season, the Broncos were off-script.
And not long after Manning's interception, the reaction was equally unexpected as the Broncos headed to the locker room following a 1-yard completion to end the first half.
And they weren't because a few people wanted to practice for Halloween.
The sound didn't come from all of the fans, or even a majority. But it was enough to be heard through the thick panes of glass on the press level, and to be picked up by television and radio microphones. The team that was undefeated, has the NFL's longest active regular-season winning streak and scored more points than anyone ever has through five -- and now, six -- games heard it from the fans.
"I was kind of shocked, because I've never heard boos here," cornerback Chris Harris said. "You don't usually hear that from our fans."
It's a reaction that you would have expected and understood two and three Octobers ago, when the Broncos lumbered back through the southwest tunnel with halftime deficits of 35 and 21 points en route to 45- and 35-point losses. But now? After one shaky half following five wins by an average of 18.2 points per game -- and a half that saw the Broncos lead by two points? At best, the boos seemed questionable; realistically, they were harsh.
"Everybody's got to understand that this is the NFL," said defensive end
This became a distant memory by the late afternoon. The Broncos outscored the Jaguars 21-7 after halftime; the defense got a three-and-out, a red-zone stop and two interceptions out of their five second-half series, and order was restored.
Maybe the smattering of boos was an overreaction to a game that veered wildly from the popular expectation, since so much pregame chatter revolved around how soon the backups would enter. Perhaps it was a result of the decision not to attempt a scoring drive before halftime; Harris thought that might be the case. Or perhaps it was simply the product of a fan base that has bought into the lofty standards the players often speak of setting from themselves.
That's how Wes Welker saw it.
"We have high expectations, too," he said. "We understand that they have high expectations for us, and we feel the same way.
"I'm sure there are a lot of us that wanted to boo ourselves. We understand it. I almost appreciated it. It kind of got our butts into gear and get ready to play out there."
But that doesn't mean the Broncos want it to be a permanent addition to the home-game script.
"I mean, we’re still winning. We’re undefeated," said Harris. "It’s hard to ever hear us get booed, but if an undefeated team gets booed, then anybody in the league can get booed.”
With six wins, the best point differential in the NFL, a defense that will regain its most dominant component and an offense still on pace for a slew of passing records, they've earned a bit of patience through any balky first halves to come.
After all, the Broncos' average second-half margin is 25-13, compared with 19-13 for the first half. A post-halftime surge is part of the script, too. It just takes a bit of time for it to play itself out.
"Just be patient with us," said defensive tackle